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Museums of Chicago Tour
Item 15 of 37

The Art Institute of Chicago, established in 1879, is a world-renowned, encyclopedic art museum housing one of the world’s most important permanent collections. The Institute offers around thirty exhibitions a year and its permanent collection of over a quarter million works represents the third largest collection of art in the United States. The Institute is also home to the largest collection of impressionist paintings outside of Paris.


  • The Art Institute moved into its present location following the conclusion of the Chicago World Fair.
  • This postcard shows the Art Institute in 1907
  • Modern Wing designed by Renzo Piano, the largest expansion in AIC’s 130-year history.
  • The Art Institute's famous western entrance on Michigan Avenue, guarded by two bronze lion statues created by Edward Kemeys.

The Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879, boasts a collection spanning 5,000 years of artistic expression. The founders of the Art Institute hoped to place a gritty, working-class city on the cultural map and also desired to expose the citizens of Chicago to works of the masters. Their avant-garde spirit led the founders to collect some of the greatest works of art of the late 19th century, and that vision built one of the best Impressionist collections in the world outside of France. The Art Institute continued to grow over the 20th century, and now the museum stands as one of the great encyclopedic art museums in the world.

Built on rubble from the 1871 Chicago fire, the Art Institute was originally founded as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879. The name was changed in 1882, and shortly thereafter the institution was already in need of a new home for its expanding collection and growing student body. As the city prepared to dazzle the country as host of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the Art Institute's trustees negotiated with the city's civic bodies for a new structure located on a park site at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. The design of the classical Beaux-Arts building, by the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, allowed for the institution's ambitious goals. The Art Institute officially opened on December 8, 1893. Over the years, the museum has grown and continues to grow its collection, its physical plant and its reputation.

In May 2009, the Institute opened its newest addition, a 24,000-square-meter Modern Wing, housing renowned Modern and Contemporary masterpieces. This internationally acclaimed Modern Wing designed by Renzo Piano is the largest expansion in AIC’s 130-year history. This signature building features the latest in green museum technology and greatly increased the space dedicated to modern and contemporary art, photography, and architecture and design. The Modern Wing also houses the Ryan Education Center, a state-of-the-art facility placed in a prominent and highly trafficked area of the museum.

"Mission and History." The Art Institute of Chicago. Accessed February 5, 2018.  http://www.artic.edu/about/mission-and-history.